21 Jan 24

How Far Can Federal Subpoenas Reach? Geographic Limits Explained

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Last Updated on: 21st January 2024, 10:46 pm

How Far Can Federal Subpoenas Reach? Geographic Limits Explained

A federal subpoena is a writ issued by a federal court or federal agency requiring a person to appear as a witness or produce documents or other evidence. Federal subpoenas can compel compliance across the United States, but there are some geographic limitations depending on the type of subpoena and legal authority behind it.

Key Takeaways

  • Federal subpoenas can generally be served nationwide under federal procedural rules and statutes.
  • Geographic limits may apply for subpoenas issued under state long-arm statutes or based on a court’s subpoena power over its district.
  • Foreign citizens in other countries cannot be compelled by a federal subpoena but may provide evidence voluntarily.

Nationwide Service Allowed

Federal subpoenas issued under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure or federal criminal procedures can be served anywhere in the U.S. according to Rule 45. There is no geographic limitation on serving a federal subpoena to someone located in any U.S. state or territory.This allows federal courts and agencies like the SEC broad power to compel evidence. It means a person in Alaska can be required to appear in a court case pending in Florida.

Limits Under State Long-Arm Statutes

However, for subpoenas issued under a state’s long-arm statute, geographic limitations apply based on limits in those statutes. Long-arm statutes allow state courts to exercise personal jurisdiction over out-of-state parties. Most limit jurisdiction to parties with minimum contacts to the state.So if a Georgia state court issues a subpoena to someone in California under the Georgia long-arm statute, the person could challenge it based on lack of personal jurisdiction if they have no contacts with Georgia.

Subpoena Power Limited to Federal District

Another key limitation is based on the subpoena power of federal district courts. Each U.S. District Court is only authorized to issue subpoenas to compel attendance of witnesses and production of evidence within its district.For example, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York lacks jurisdiction to issue subpoenas to compel action in the Northern District of California. This geographic restriction comes from Rule 45 itself, which defines the subpoena power of a district court.

Foreign Citizens in Other Countries

Unlike U.S. citizens anywhere in the country, foreign citizens in other countries generally cannot be compelled by a federal subpoena. International law and sovereignty concerns mean federal subpoenas cannot apply abroad.Instead, federal courts have to rely on mutual legal assistance treaties (MLATs) and letters rogatory to request foreign courts compel testimony or evidence from foreign citizens. Even with MLAT requests, compliance is not guaranteed depending on the country’s laws.So while federal subpoenas can reach any U.S. location, compelling evidence from other countries requires diplomatic requests rather than federal subpoenas. Foreign citizens also cannot be held in contempt or arrested for failing to comply like U.S. citizens can be. However, they can choose to voluntarily provide evidence overseas without being subpoenaed.


For more information on federal subpoena limits, geographic scope, and compelling evidence from abroad, these legal resources have additional details: